Why social movements discredit themselves by violence?

Study[1] from 2017 shows how a social movement can be discredited by an excess of violence.

The results of this study show that the choice of extreme protest methods is actually counterproductive. Indeed, such methods alienate public opinion.

Tactics of radical protests are often chosen by activists because they would have a major utility: to attract the attention of the media and the public. In this age of overinformation, attention is the nerve of war and the channels of communication are multiple. Multiplying “coups d’éclat” permit to be distinguished.

Extreme protest methods have a major utility: they make it possible to attract attention.

At first, extreme protest tactics are effective for gaining widespread attention. However, more the actions move towards radicalism, less they encourage support and commitment. In fact, they “decreased popular support for a given cause because they reduced feelings of identification with the movement”.

The activist’s dilemma

On one hand, violent actions raise awareness, but on the other hand they tend to reduce popular support to the cause militants are fighting for.

Leaders of the various social movements around the world seem little aware of the effects of their tactics on opinion. We also understand why militant radicalism still has a bright future ahead of it.


Reading this study also provides interesting insights into the failure of terrorist groups to federate beyond a particular group of individuals.



[1] « Extrem Protest Tactics Reduce Popular Support for Social Movments » Rotman School of Management Working paper.

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